BOSTON – On November 20, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her legislative colleagues in voting to enact the Student Opportunity Act. This legislation, providing an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts K-12 public education system, ensures public schools have the resources to provide high-quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level. Assuming inflation, over time the bill will provide an estimated $2.2 billion.
The Student Opportunity Act ensures that all school districts across the Commonwealth benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, as well as receive increased state investments in vital education aid programs such as special education transportation, school construction and renovation, and the 21stCentury Education Program. The legislation also provides significant support to school districts that serve English language learners or have high concentrations of low-income students.
“The passage of this bill embodies the Legislature’s commitment to improving our public education system for every student in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Friedman. “This bill will ensure that every community in our district has adequate resources to provide high quality education to all. I commend my colleagues for putting public education at the forefront of our shared agenda, and am excited to see the positive impact this historic bill will make on schools in my district when the bill becomes law.”
The Student Opportunity Act fully implements the recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) in order to support the “educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s educational goals” as stated in the Commission’s mission. The bill provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:
- Estimates school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up-to-date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC);
- Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment;
- Increases funding for English learners (EL) and differentiates funding by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students;
- Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of low-income students by:
- Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district;
- Districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100 percent of the base foundation; and
- Returning the definition of low-income to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133 percent level used in recent years.
To ensure that education funding levels remain adequate, effective and equitable, the legislation includes forward-looking provisions to address additional funding challenges and policy areas. The bill would direct the Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 school funding formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy. It would also establish a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment.
The legislation would create a “21st Century Education Trust Fund” to support schools and districts pursuing innovative approaches to learning, increase the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s annual spending cap by $200 million to allow for more school building and construction projects,set up a three-year timeline to fully fund charter school tuition reimbursements, increase foundation rates for guidance and psychological services, and expand a special education reimbursement program to include transportation costs.
In order to track and reproduce successful school and district-level programs and policies, the legislation calls on school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing opportunity gaps. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success. The bill also establishes a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state-, district-, and school-level to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation. The bill increases the scope of data collected and moves towards establishing targets for college and career success.
The bill requires the Foundation Budget Review Commission to convene at least every ten years to review the way foundation budgets are calculated and ensure the school funding formula continues to reflect the needs of school districts across the Commonwealth.
The Student Opportunity Act will also allow school districts to establish a local reserve fund to pay for unanticipated or unbudgeted costs of students attending recovery high schools – high schools that provide, in addition to traditional academic curriculum, a safe, sober, and supportive school environment for students with substance use disorder. In addition, the bill will direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to determine the appropriate per pupil costs at recovery high schools to better inform future policy regarding staffing and funding levels needed to ensure the quality and sustainability of these schools. Both of these provisions were added to the bill via amendments filed by Senator Friedman, who has been a staunch advocate for recovery high schools.
“I’m particularly proud that this bill includes provisions I fought for to support our state’s successful Recovery High School system,” said Senator Friedman. “These schools have been tremendously successful – resulting in higher graduation rates, lower absenteeism, and the opportunity for students to develop skills needed for personal, academic, vocational and community success.”
The bill was signed into law by the Governor on Tuesday, November 26, 2019.